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Leitz research microscope "Universal mikroskop stativ A" (Wetzlar, 1905)

Leitz research "Universal" microscope, stand A

The serial number of this large microscope (84268) firmly dates it to 1905.

It is equipped with coaxial macro- and micrometric focusing, draw-tube for the use of both English and continental objectives and triple rotating nosepiece. The mechanical stage can rotate 360° and it is endowed with non-orthogonal translation mechanism by two micrometric screws. The distance of the Abbe condenser can be adjusted by a rack and pinion mechanism and the iris diaphragm can be translated off-axis with a micrometric screw for oblique illumination. The entire condenser and diaphragm block can also be rotated outwards, when not needed. Illumination is provided by a plano-concave double-sided mirror. One characteristic of this model is the English-type claw foot, different from the typical horseshoe foot of the German microscopes.

This instrument is still perfectly functional and comes with five different Leitz original objectives: no. 2, 3, 5, 9 (fluorite) and 1/12mm oil immersion in their brass canisters and two Leitz objectives 0 and 3, allowing up to 900x magnifications. Note the large optical tube for use with a microphotographic apparatus.

Everything is housed in its original mahogany dovetailed box. This instrument came from the University of Wien. On the door there is still the name of the retailer: "Erwin Kosak - Spezial Inst. für Mikroskopie und Opfik, Universitätstrasse 12, Wien".


This laboratory research microscope was top-of-the line in the catalog of the famous German firm Leitz at the beginning of the XX century, as shown below.



Leitz 1913 catalog illustrating the model A research microscope.

Its excellent quality is testified by the fact that an identical microscope has been chosen to be part of the scientific equipment of the second British Antarctic Expedition or Terra Nova Expedition (1910-13), led by Robert Falcon Scott, who reached the South Pole in 1912 and tragically died on his way back, along with his four mates.

In the picture below, taken by the photographer of the expedition, Herbert Ponting, it can be seen the expedition's medical officer, surgeon and parasitologist Edward Atkinson, working in Scott's Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica in 1911 with a Leitz Universal microscope, stand A. The model is equipped with a mechanical stage.


The surgeon E. Atkinson working in Cape Evan's Hut during the Terra Nova expedition in 1911.

Atkinson was an able parasitologist and during the Terra Nova Expedition he described 37 new helminths worms from fishes, seals and penguins. He named several helminth parasites after himself (Tetrabothius aichisoni), his fellows and even after the wife of the chief scientific officer of the expedition Edward Wilson (Oriana wilsoni). Later in China he worked with the eminent parasitologist Robert Leiper on schistosomiasis. Leiper and Atkinson also published the description of the helminths from the Terra Nova expedition, based on the observations made by Atkinson with his Leitz microscope. The description  of Oriana wilsoni from the original paper is shown below.


Original report (1915) on the helminths isolated during the Terra Nova expedition, with the description of the worm Oriana wilsoni named after Edward Wilson's wife.

The original microscope used by Atkinson during the expedition still survives and it is on display at the Discovery Centre museum in Dundee, Scotland. It bears engraved on the optical tube: "Leitz London - Wetzlar. Scott Antarctic Expedition June 1910". The serial number is difficult to read, but it looks like (presumably) 113580 or 117580, dating it to 1909-10.


The Leitz microscope used by Atkinson during the Terra Nova Expedition

The design of this microscope was very innovative for its time, as apparent from its very "modern" look, if considered that it was produced more than 110 years ago, and indeed became the standard for many manufacturers, due to its great stability and usability. In the Museum of Camillo Golgi, in Corteno Golgi (BS), Italy there is a microphotographic apparatus used at the Golgi's Institute in Pavia in the early XX century, connected to a microscope almost identical to the Leitz model A. The instrument is unsigned, but it is very likely an Italian production by the famous optician Koristka, in Milan, who adopted the design of German stands, such as the one from Leitz.


Microphotographic apparatus at the Camillo Golgi's Museum in Corteno Golgi (BS), Italy, connected to a microscope designed after the Leitz stand A, presumably by Koristka, Milan.


Ernst Leitz Wetzlar

The Firm Ernst Leitz in Wetzlar, Germany began as an Optical Institute under the direction of Carl Kellner in 1849.  In 1855 Kellner died from Tuberculosis at the age of 29.  The Institute survived under the leadership of Friedrich Behltle, an apprentice of Kellner's who married his widow. In 1863 Ernst Leitz joined the institute and by 1865 was a full partner. Upon the death of Behltle, Leitz became the sole owner of the now renamed company, E Leitz, Wetzlar.  Leitz continued to manufacture quality microscopes and telescopes. By 1900 the Leitz firm had produced 50,000 microscopes. In 1907 the production of binoculars began. In 1913 Leitz introduced a revolutionary model of binocular microscope, based on a novel prismatic head designed by Leitz Jr. (his son). This design is basically still used today for binocular microscopes. By 1914 Leitz was one of the leading Microscope manufacturers in the world. In the 1990's the Leitz group merged with the Cambridge Instruments in the new brand Leica, which is still one of the world's top microscope manufacturers. For additional details on the Leitz firm, visit the Leica-microsystems website:



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